Indie gaming. It might make you think of small teams – even teams of one – holed up in home offices; focused experiences that put more stake in creative game-play mechanics – your Braids and Fezs – than next-generation, video-card-frying graphics; unique aesthetics and memorable styles.
But 10 years ago, you might not have thought… Well, anything. It’s only been in the last six or seven years that the indie gaming scene has exploded. And in the future, we believe user-generated gaming platforms, including ROBLOX, will not only sustain the explosion, but grow it, as more and more people pick up on what it takes to independently develop games well before going pro.
Why did indie gaming take off?
Indie gaming hit critical mass in the mid-2000s – arguably with the release of the community-driven Xbox Live Indie Games in 2008. It happened for a few reasons: distribution, technology and a market saturated with tried-and-true game concepts.
If you were an independent game developer in the ‘90s, you had a limited audience. (“Limited” meaning your circle of friends and the scant millions of internet users who were capable of downloading shareware games.) Even if you poured yourself into a hot game, something infinitely better than the competition, you didn’t necessarily have access to the distribution channels – retailers and a web-based press – that would get your product in front of players.
Independent game developers can now distribute games via popular digital services, such as Steam and Xbox Live Arcade, mobile app stores, home-grown websites, web-based Flash and HTML5 technology, and social networks1.
Distribution doesn’t mean much if your games aren’t high-quality, so it’s just as important that the gap between what a small team and a full-fledged development studio can create continues to narrow. Many indie darlings face technical and/or budgetary constraints2, but they’ve proven able to turn lemons into lemonade. Indie developers often eschew photorealism – once the end-all-be-all of video game technology – and instead captivate players’ imaginations with style. There are plenty of tools, such as platform-specific development APIs (application programming interfaces) and Unity, readily available and capable of producing professional-looking games.
Finally, without publishers, independent game developers have freedom to escape guaranteed-to-sell, but tired game mechanics3. Players have latched onto the resulting creativity.
While creating and distributing a game independently is easier today than ever before, there are still barriers to entry. One of the most common ways to enter game development – whether your aspiration is to go indie or not – is to modify an existing game. “Modding,” as it is known, requires that you open up a game engine and essentially reverse engineer the code. You can’t deny that it’s a useful exercise in learning by doing4, but it’s not exactly entry-level.
There are smoother ways to slip into game development. You could start with a game like LittleBigPlanet, where you can practice level design and use a game engine to create interactions and systems of play. ROBLOX takes it a step further by letting users not only practice architecture and manipulate physics, but also develop an original game from scratch. The most successful games are not only aesthetically pleasing, but built with a lot of thought put into design, interface and performance.
Base Wars: The Land, one of ROBLOX’s leading combat games, is a good example. It features about 30 character classes and, on top of that, vehicles to pilot and special weapons for each class that you can unlock through play. It’s been played more than 13 million times, which we consider a legitimate game-development success and the kind of foundation its creator, d4rk886, could conceivably use to develop better, even more successful and profitable games.
Bottom line: ROBLOX is the type of platform that can set users up for a dive into independent game development.
In the literal sense, ROBLOX users already are doing independent game development through user-generated gaming.
Creating unique, outside-the-box gameplay
It’s logical for your first instinct to be to replicate something you saw in another game. Some of the most popular ROBLOX games – Call of Robloxia 5: Roblox at War and Apocalypse Rising, for example – are directly inspired by high-profile games, then expanded and warped in unique ways.
But we’ve also seen genres pop up on ROBLOX that you don’t see anywhere else. One of them is disaster survival. Sure, you may have once watched a tornado or towering monster wreak havoc on your SimCity, but these games pit ROBLOX players in the midst of wacky disasters. Being that everything in ROBLOX is physically simulated, you can’t just run to the nearest house and hide – because it’s probably going to come crashing down on you. You’re not likely to see many major publishers taking a chance on chaotic, disaster-survival mini games, but they’re a sensible risk for the ROBLOX developer.
Individual efforts and small teams
Most ROBLOX game developers function as one-man armies. They don’t have the luxury of hiring artists, designers and producers. So, they create focused, contained experiences and iterate on their games to improve the quality and expand the scope over time. They draw on web resources – such as ROBLOX’s forums and scripting websites – to find the knowledge and help they need.
Some users collaborate in small teams. For example, Gusmanak, the creator of Apocalypse Rising, connected with ZolarKeth, a long-time friend and ROBLOX scripter, to execute a grander-than-most vision5. Base Wars: The Land is headed up by d4rk886, but the game has a development team of three.
ROBLOX users have to find ways to organize and get things done without the benefit of experts sitting across the office. While some independent studios – TellTale Games, for instance – do have that luxury, it’s often not the case.
ROBLOX users aren’t packaging their products in boxes and selling them on store shelves. Like most independent game developers, they use web resources to promote and distribute their games. ROBLOX hosts the game for free, so it’s easily available; it’s up to the developers to spread the word through their networks and advertise wherever they see fit, including on ROBLOX itself. We’re thinking a lot about implementing and simplifying the distribution of ROBLOX games across other platforms and media, but that’s still well into the future.
A Bubble That Won’t Burst
Independent game development isn’t a passing trend. It’s actually persisted for years – for example, the Independent Games Festival was established way back in ‘986 – and crystalized recently because distribution technology and development tools got really good. Today, app stores and digital distribution are helping independently developed games reach new – not to mention large – audiences7.
ROBLOX lets users see the full cross-section of game development – everything from initial concept to distribution, promotion and post-release development. And we think exploring that cross-section gives our users a leg up on their increasing indie development competition. With indie gaming likely to stick around, there could be a big payoff.
Keep practicing development. Keep improving your product. Get your games in front of people. Create an indie game today.